It was with consternation that I read what Information Technology providers who tried to be trailblazers had to go through. Their only crime being that they attempted to provide Ghanaians with VoIP. Some even faced jail time under the former government. One would think that would have stopped with the new government. But even though no one has been arrested or harassed, the frustrations have come, with the way the government is dragging its feet coming up with a policy that will throw the doors open to a technology that has been embraced in a lot of developing countries. For very obvious reasons.
What is VoIP
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. The way it works is explained below. How traditional long distance works: You pick up your phone and dial a long distance phone number, the call goes through your local telephone company to your long distance provider (Ghana Telecom or Westel) who charges you a connection fee and per minute charge, billed monthly in your long distance phone bill. How long distance works with VoIP: You pick up your phone and dial a long distance phone number, the call goes through your local telephone company (Ghana Telecom or Westel) to a VoIP provider, this is a local call. The call then goes over the Internet to the receiver's local calling area where a local call is placed (by the VoIP provider) to complete the connection. You have just circumvented your long distance company and eliminated your long distance phone bill! A little history The possibility of voice communications traveling over the Internet, rather than the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) first became a reality in February 1995 when Vocaltec, Inc. introduced its Internet Phone software. Designed to run on a 486/33-Megahertz (or higher) personal computer (PC) equipped with a sound card, speakers, microphone, and modem, the software compressed the voice signal and translated it into IP packets for transmission over the Internet. This PC-to-PC Internet telephony worked, however, only if both parties were using Internet Phone software. In the relatively short period of time since then, Internet telephony has advanced rapidly. Many software developers now offer PC telephony software but, more importantly, gateway servers are emerging to act as an interface between the Internet and the PSTN. Equipped with voice-processing cards, these gateway servers enable users to communicate via standard telephones over great distances without going over the "Long Distance" telephone network. A call goes over the local PSTN to the nearest gateway server, which digitizes the analog voice signal, compresses it into internet protocol packets, and moves it onto the Internet for transport to a gateway server at the receiving end. This server converts the digital IP signal back to analog and completes the call locally. With its support for computer-to-telephone calls, telephone-to-computer calls and telephone-to-telephone calls, VoIP represents a significant step toward the integration of voice and data networks. Originally regarded as a novelty, Internet telephony is attracting more and more users because it offers tremendous cost savings relative to the PSTN. Users can bypass long-distance carriers and their per-minute usage rates and run their voice traffic over the Internet for an Internet-access fee. Advantages to the average Ghanaian Widespread deployment of a new technology seldom occurs without a clear and sustainable justification and the following should serve as a reason why the government should not hesitate to open the market to VOIP providers. Reducing long distance telephone costs is always a popular topic and provides a good reason for introducing VoIP. Every Ghanaian household has a member, most times the caretaker of the family, living abroad. Using the PSTN (provided by Ghana Telecom) is both prohibitively expensive and most times frustrating. Frustrating because the number of households with phones at home (teledensity in 1999 was 76 phones per 1000 people and this may not have changed by much) and with something called IDD to boot is a miniscule percentage of the population. This has led to a sad situation where most people wanting to make calls to relatives outside of the country have to queue up for the few working phone booths to make calls with expensive phone cards they purchase and that only give a few minutes of talking time. With the advent of Internet Cafes, which can be found now in a lot of places, even villages, the next logical step is VoIP so that a cheap reliable way can be provided for people to talk to their relatives outside of the country. One can understand the tack the previous government took because it of its all-consuming obsession with security, it probably felt that VoIP was maybe, a security loophole. Another reason may have been the ridiculous contract that was signed with the Malaysians giving them exclusivity over the provision of long distance services. But this current government has stated its intention of making Information Technology one of its priorities so why the feet-dragging. Eric Agyeman Verizon Corporation Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.
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